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A Neo-Babylonian Administrative Term in Isaiah 23:18

Pages 239 - 247


Hebrew University, Jerusalem

1 * This research was supported by The Israel Science Foundation.

2 The composite nature of Isaiah 23 has long been recognised, vv. 15–18 generally being considered a late addition: see, for example, J.G. Eichhorn, Einleitung ins Alte Testament (Leipzig, 1783), 3: 95–96; H. Ewald, The Prophet Isaiah (London: Deighton, Bell, & Co., 1869), 78 (German original: Die Propheten des alten Bundes, [Stuttgart, 1840–1841]); T.K. Cheyne, Introduction to the Book of Isaiah (London: Kessinger, 1895), 138; and most scholars since.

3 No need exists to claim a composite character for Isa 23:15–18, as some scholars have suggested, maintaining that vv. 15–16 and vv. 17–18 were added in two stages: see G. Fohrer, Das Buch Jesaja (Zürich/Stuttgart: Zwingli, 1966), 243; J. Vermeylen, Du prophète Isaïe à l'apocalyptique (Paris: J. Gabalda, 1977), 345; H. Wildberger, Isaiah (trans. T.H. Trapp; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 412, 433–37. While some additions may have entered the passage—such as the rather odd phrase כימי מלך אחד—the passage appears to derive from the hand of a single (relatively late) author: see R. Goldstein, “Updating Passages of Restoration in the Prophecies to the Nations” (forthcoming). For the phrase כימי מלך אחד, see Wildberger, Isaiah, 436.

4 For the various attempts to date the prophecies, cf. Wildberger, Isaiah, 415–19; M.A. Sweeney, Isaiah 1–39 (FOTL; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 306–10; B.S. Childs, Isaiah (OTL; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 165–66; T. Renz, “Proclaiming the Future: History and Theology in Prophecies Against Tyre”, TynBul 51 (2000): 37–43; R.R. Lessing, Interpreting Discontinuity: Isaiah's Tyre Oracle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 66–98; W.A.M. Beuken, Jesaja 13–27 (HThKAT; Freiburg: Herder, 2007), 289–93, 307–9.

5 For the pre-exilic dating of vss. 1–14 (or their principal core), see, for example, W. Rudolph, “Jesaja 23, 1–14”, in Festschrift für Friedrich Baumgärtel (ed. J. Hermann; Erlangen: Universitätsbund Erlangen, 1959), 166–74, esp. 173–74; Wildberger, Isaiah, 415–19; Beuken, Jesaja 13–27, 292–93. Sweeney (Isaiah, 308–10) associates vv. 1–14 with Sennacherib's campaign in 701 B. C. E. and the prophecy of restoration with Tyre's recovery following the decline of the Assyrian empire ca. 630 B. C. E., when trade relations between Tyre and Judah were presumably renewed.

6 See B. Duhm, Das Buch Jesaja (HAT; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1892), p. 141, 146–147 (who links vss. 1–14 with the conquest and destruction of Sidon by Artaxerxes III Ochus in 348 B. C. E.); K. Marti, Das Buch Jesaja (KHAT; Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1900), 182; Fohrer, Das Buch Jesaja, 242–44; O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1965), 323; J. Lindblom, “Der Ausspruch über Tyrus in Jes. 23”, Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute 4 (1965): 56–73, esp. 69–71; O. Kaiser, Isaiah 13–39 (OTL; London: SCM, 1974), 171; V. Jigoulov, “The Phoenician City-states of Tyre and Sidon in Ancient Jewish Texts”, SJOT 21 (2007): 73–105, esp. 82–83; compare: E. Lipinski, “The Elegy on the Fall of Sidon in Isaiah 23”, Eretz Israel 14 (1978): 79–88.

7 See Eichhorn, Einleitung ins Alte Testament, 3:95–96; Ewald, The Prophet Isaiah, 78; W. Vatke, Historisch-Kritische Einleitung in das Alte Testament (ed. H.G.S. Preiss; Bonn, 1886), 623; Cheyne, Introduction to the Book of Isaiah, 138–39; Wildberger, Isaiah, 417, 433; Beuken, Jesaja 13–27, 293. This dating is based primarily on the ideology reflected in the passage—in particular, the universalism expressed in the hope of Tyre's conversion; the similarity it exhibits with several passages from the Persian period; and the influence of other biblical passages from the exilic or post-exilic periods (see also below, n. 25). While these arguments appear valid, some of them also being employed by scholars ascribing the passage to a later date (see previous note), we hope herein to adduce additional evidence.

8 Cf. Tg. Jon.: ארי לדמשמשין קדם ה’ יהי אגרה למיכל למסבע ולכסו דיקר; Vulgate: quia his qui habitaverint coram Domino erit negotiatio eius ut manducent in saturitatem et vestiantur usque ad vetustatem. For modern translations see for example: “… rather shall her profits go to those who abide before the Lord, that they may eat their fill and clothe themselves elegantly” (NJPS); “Her profits will go to those who live before the Lord, for abundant food and fine clothes” (NIV).

9 For the conventional meaning of מְכַסֶּה, see HALOT, s.v. מְכַסֶּה 581. מְכַסֶּיךָ in Isa 14:11 (,תַּחְתֶּיךָ יֻצַּע רִמּה וּמְכַסֶּיךָ תּוֹלֵעָה) can only bear the sense of “covering/coverlet” and not “clothing”. Similarly, while in Ezek 27:7 the meaning “covering” fits the context (a ship from Tyre), this sense does not fit well in Isa 23:18. For the various attempts to render עתיק in Isa 23:18, see Wildberger, Isaiah, 411; Beuken, Jesaja 13–27, 306. For the senses of עתיק, cf. HALOT, s.v. עָתיק, 903 (“sacred magnificent [clothing]”); cf. HALOT, s.v. עַתּיק, 903, which gives the meanings “old” (1 Chr 4: 22: והדברים עתיקים) and “removed, set apart” (Isa 28:9: גמולי מחלב עתיקי משדים), the meaning “durable/enduring” possibly being a derivative from “old”: cf., for example. Fox, Proverbs, 277–78. This meaning remains difficult for Isa 23:18, however.

10 Cf. J. Ziegler, Untersuchungen zur Septuaginta des Buches Isaias (Münster: Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1934), 116–17; A. Van der Kooij, The Oracle of Tyre (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 72–75. According to the latter, the Septuagint can be retroverted to “for a (regular) contribution/tax a memorial before the Lord”. Cf. also I.L. Seeligman, The Septuagint Version of Isaiah (Leiden: Brill, 1948), 47.

11 HALOT, s.v. מֶכֶס, 581: “… tribute, but unlike Akk. only in the cult”; cf. also ibid, s.v. מִכְסָה 581, where this feminine form — attested in Exod 12:4 and Lev 27:23 — is alleged to be a Hebrew neologism. For the Aramean מכס, מיכסה, מיכסא — also an Akkadian loanword — cf. S. Kaufman, The Akkadian Influences on Aramaic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 72; M. Sokoloff, Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic (Ramat Gan/Baltimore: Bar Ilan University Press/Johns Hopkins Univresity Press, 1992), 308; M. Sokoloff, Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (Ramat Gan/Baltimore: Bar Ilan University Press/Johns Hopkins Univresity Press, 1992), 676. The word is attested several times in the Palmyran Tariff as an equivalent to the Greek telos (toll, tax): see D.R. Hillers and E. Cussini, Palmyran Aramaic Texts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 57–63, 381. The word occurs in the Hebrew Bible only in Num 31:28, 37, 41 (and in a slightly different form in Exod 12:4 and Lev 27:23).

12 Cf. M. de Jong Ellis, “Taxation in Ancient Mesopotamia: The History of the Term miksu”, JCS 26 (1974): 211–50. esp. 244–45. For the Assyrian sources, see J.N. Postgate, Taxation and Conscription in the Assyrian Empire (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1974), 131–34. For the Neo-Babylonian taxation system imposed on the transport of commodities, see G. Van Driel, Elusive Silver: In Search of a Role for a Market in an Agrarian Environment (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 274–82, esp. 278–79 (miksu); M. Jursa (with contributions by J. Hackl, B. Janković, K. Kleber, E.E. Payne and M. Weszeli), Aspects of the Economic History of Babylonia in the First Millennium BC (AOAT 377; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2010), 646–7. For the extension of this Neo-Babylonian administration terminology into the Achaemenid Empire, see M. Jursa, “On aspects of Taxation in Achaemenid Babylonia”, in Organisation des pouvoirs et contacts culturels dans les pays de l'empire achéménide (Persika 14; ed. P. Briant and M. Chauveau; Paris: de Boccard, 2009), 263. For the sources regarding taxes during the Achaemenid Empire, cf. also A. Kuhrt, The Persian Empire (London: Routledge, 2007), 670, 681–706. For the entrance of the word into Aramaic bearing this specific sense, see Sokoloff, DJPA, 308; Sokoloff, DJBA, 676, and especially the following talmudic reference which he cites: אילפא דאזלא בלא יהבית מכסאי חלפית ועברית (…) מיכסא “a boat which travels without [having paid] the toll … I paid my toll, passed, and crossed over” (b. Abod. Zar. 10b).

13 For the history of Tyre during the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empires, see H.J. Katzenstein, The History of Tyre (2d ed.; Beersheba: Ben Gurion University Press, 1997), 193–347; A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East c. 3000–330 BC (London/NY: Routledge, 1995), 2: 402–10. The Neo-Assyrian kings refrained from making Tyre part of an Assyrian province, presumably due to its mercantile significance. Neo-Assyrian interests in Tyre are attested in Esarhaddon's treaty with Baal, King of Tyre (signed in 675–674 B. C. E.), which notes in particular the ports on trade routes entrusted by Esarhaddon king of Assyria to Baal — and probably the toll collection: see S. Parpola and K. Watanabe, Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths (SAA 2; Helsinki: University of Helsinki Press, 1988), 24–26, iii, ll. 18–26; N. Na'aman, “Esarhaddon's Treaty with Baal and Assyrian Provinces Along the Phoenician Coast”, Rivista di Studi Fenici 22 (1995): 3–8. For Tyre during the Neo-Babylonian period, see D.S. Vanderhooft, The Neo-Babylonian Empire and Babylon in the Latter Prophets (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999), 100–2; S. Zawadzki, “Nebuchadnezzar and Tyre in the Light of New Texts from the Ebabbar Archives in Sippar”, Eretz Israel 27 (2003): 276*–281*; I. Eph'al, “Nebuchadnezzar the Warrior: Remarks on his Military Achievements”, IEJ 53.2 (2003): 178–91, esp. 185–87; and, most recently, K. Kleber, Tempel und Palast: Die Beziehungen zwischen dem König und dem Eanna-Tempel im spätbabylonischen Uruk (AOAT 358; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2008), 141–54, 167, 334—who maintains that Babylonian personnel and officials were present in Tyre during Nebuchadnezzar reign's, Babylonian farmers being settled in the region on a permanent basis. See also M. Jursa and K. Wagensonner, “The Estates of šamaš on the Hābūr”, Imperium and Officium: Comparative Studies in Ancient Bureaucracy and Officialdom Working Papers (IOWP, 2011), 2.

14 HALOT, s.v. עתק, 904–5; CAD E, s.v. etēqu, 384–95. For this root, see also H. Schmoldt, עתק, TDOT 11: 457–58.

15 Cf. CAD, š/III, s.v. šūtuqu adj. 415. This meaning is appropriate in some passages in the Hebrew Bible where the root עתק is attested. Thus, for example, the adjective in הון עתק (Prov 8:18) probably signifies a “surpassing” — derived from the sense of “enduring” — rather than “splendid” fortune: see M.V. Fox, Proverbs 1–9 (AB; NY: Doubleday, 2000), 277–78. Likewise, the verb עתקו גם גברו חיל in Job 21:7 may be translated as “they grow great, exalted” or possibly “they gathered a surpassing fortune”: see R. Gordis, The Book of Job (NY: JTS Press, 1978), 228; Schmoldt, עתק, 457.

16 The principal problem with this suggestion is that no agreement exists between the feminine noun מכסה and the masculine adjective עתיק (as in the MT) or עתק (as in 4Q Isc). This factor is not decisive however, it also being possible that such an agreement was originally present, being corrupted when the passage was misunderstood.

17 CAD, E s.v. etēqu A-5.c) 2′ (393–394): “šūtuqu to pass … to allow persons or boats to pass or pass through (customs).” For this idiom and its background, see Van Driel, Elusive Silver, 278–79, n. 18; K. Abraham, Business and Politics under the Persian Empire (Bethesda: CDL Press 2004), 32–33, 283; F. Joannnes, “La fiscalité de la Babylonie achéménide”, in Fiscality in Mycenaean and Near Eastern Archives (ed. M. Perna; Paris: de Boccard, 2006), 54–55.

18 M.W. Stolper, “Registration and Taxation of Slave Sales in Achaemenid Babylonia”, ZA 79 (1989): 80–101; esp. 82–83, 89.

19 C. Wunsch, Die Urkunden des babylonischen Geschäftsmannes Iddin-Marduk (Leiden: Brill, 1993), 339 (= Van Driel, Elusive Silver, 278). This is a receipt from year 4 of Cambyses (of Babylon). The idiom appears in another receipt belonging to Iddin-Marduk, Camb 272 = Wunsch, Iddin-Marduk, 347 (123; dated 19/I/Camb 5), also being reflected in an earlier receipt (Cyr 12 = Wunsch, Iddin-Marduk, 263 [111]), which contains the phrase ‘kāri … ušētiqšu’.

20 Dar 268 = Abraham, Business and Politics under the Persian Empire, 392–93 (no. 102). This is a receipt from Babylon dated 19 July 512 b.c.e. (18/iv/10 Dar).

21 BM 31347 = Abraham, Business and Politics under the Persian Empire, 282–83 (no. 44). This is a receipt dated to the reign of Darius (20/ix [-] Dar). Cf. VAS 3 159 (year 35 of Darius) = K. Kleber, “dātu ša šarri: Gesetzgebung in Babylonien unter den Achämeniden”, ZAR 16 (2010): 49–75, esp. 65–66; cf. Van Driel, Elusive Silver, 279. This is a receipt for “miksu on amounts of barley, wheat and cress … allowed to pass through (ušētiqū) the bīt kāre …”.

22 Stolper, “Registration and Taxation of Slave Sales in Achaemenid Babylonia”, 80–101. A document from the seventh year of Darius II, 4 April 417 B. C. E. states: “[Ahāssunu] … will clear the conveyance (tušētiqma) of that slave Rībat, [to Bēl]-ittija-[silim(?)] through the royal tax office (ina bīt miksu ša šarri)” (BM 30126 = Stolper, “Registration and Taxation of Slave Sales in Achaemenid Babylonia”, 94–95, ll. 9–16). A document from the twenty-first year of Artaxerxes similarly reads: “Ubār, son of B[alāṭu], will (?) [clear the co]nveyance (ušētiqma) of those slaves to Mamija, son of Tahtemu(?), in the royal tax office (ina bīt miksu ša šarri)” (BM 62588 = Stolper, “Registration and Taxation of Slave Sales in Achaemenid Babylonia”, 95–98, ll. 12–14).

23 While not identical, the syntax of the sentence למכס העתיק … כי לישבים לפני ה’ יהיה closely corresponds to the expression יהיה ל … למס in Deut 20:11. Although it is difficult to reconstruct the precise form behind the proposed העתיק or העתק, we would expect an adjective derived from the hip'il of עתק, possibly resembling the construct infinitive הַעְתִּיק: see T. Joüon and P. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 2006), 49b (145), 54a (160). The suggested idiom may be compared to several compounds in the Hebrew Bible which employ the term כסף with the meaning of “levy/tax”: cf. כסף הכפורים (Exod 30:16); כסף פדיום (Num 3:49; but see Sam. Ver.) כסף נפשות or כסף נפשות ערכו (2 Kgs 12:5); and especially כסף עובר or כסף עובר (2 Kgs 12:5). For the latter two idioms, see the summary in M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings (AB; New York: Doubleday 1988), 137; cf. also: כסף ממכר (Lev 25:50); כסף עובר לסחר (Gen 23:16); כסף מחירה (Job 28:15). Particularly noteworthy in the present context is the idiom מכסת הערכך in Lev 27:23 and the synonymous usage of מכסת הערכך and כסף ערכך (Lev 27:19) there. This usage of כסף requires further investigation.

24 Another minor emendation might be proposed in the light of this suggestion: that the original ending of the verse was: כי לישבים לפני ה’ יהיה סחרה לאכלה ולשבעה, ולמכסה עתיק הונה. In the beginning of the verse, the wealth of Tyre is qualified by סחרה ואתננה, while in the end of the verse we have only סחרה. It is likely then that the word הונה, ‘her wealth’, is missing in the end of the verse; the next word in the beginning of Isa 24:1 is: הנה, and that suggests a possible haplography in the present versions. As noted above, n. 14, the adjective עתק appears with the noun הון in Prov 8:18, probably signifying: ‘a surpassing fortune’, and it won't be surprising then to find here the word הון, which qualifies Tyre's wealth in Ezekiel 27: 12, 18, 27, 33 (see also below note. 25).

25 Neo-Assyrian possesses a close term related to this kind of tax in nēbiru: cf. Van Driel, Elusive Silver, 275, 279–80. The term mūṣÛ is likewise attested in Old Assyrian texts as the tax paid when a product left an area: see ibid, 275, 279. While understanding מכסה or מכס as miksu “tax” and עתיק or העתיק as “abundant (surpassing)” still permits a relatively early Neo-Assyrian background, the Hebrew calque of the administrative term miksu is better explained within a Neo-Babylonian framework, when the imperial administration terminology spread and was probably also employed in Judaea. For additional reasons for rejecting a Neo-Assyrian background to Isa 23:15–18, see below. Naturally, rendering מכס העתיק here as a “crossing tax” implies a Neo-Babylonian or Achaemenid context.

26 Substantively and stylistically, Isa 23:15–18 resembles several prophecies which “update” the oracles against the nations to fit later historical circumstances: cf. Jer 46:26, 48:46–47, 49:6, 49:36–39, and especially Ezek 29:8–16 — which employs very similar terminology and concepts to denote Egypt's forty years of desolation as a later editorial response to the fact that the original prophecy of destruction was not fulfilled, as evidenced by Egypt's continued existence. By suggesting that the prophet himself had expected the rejuvenation of the nations destined for ruin, the writer or editor explained that, despite their destruction as predicted, their restoration constituted part of the divine plan. A similar understanding in relation to Tyre being reflected in Ezek 29:17–21, our present passage appears to betray the hand of an even later editor, the correspondences between Ezekiel 26, 29 and Isa 23:15–18 indicating that the latter text is a late response to the prophecies of doom in Isa 23:1–14 and Ezekiel 26: see Goldstein, “Updating Passages of Restoration in the Prophecies to the Nations”.

27 The affinities between Isa 23:15–18 and such passages as Isa 60:11–12, 61:5 were recognized early on by scholars: cf. Cheyne, Introduction to the Book of Isaiah, 139; Marti, Das Buch Jesaja, 182; G.B. Gray, Isaiah (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1912), 396; et al. For the passages in Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah, see G. Stansell, “The Nations' Journey to Zion: Pilgrimage and Tribute as Metaphor in the Book of Isaiah”, in The Desert Will Bloom: Poetic Visions in Isaiah (ed. A.J. Everson and H.C.P. Kim; Atlanta: SBL, 2009), 233–55; R.D. Wells, “‘They All Gather They Come To You’; History, Utopia, and The Reading of Isaiah 49:18–26 and 60:4–16”, in ibid, 197–216, and the bibliography cited there.

28 The verb הפך in Isa 60:5 כִּי יֵהָפֵךְ עָלַיִךְ הֲמוֹן יָם חֵיל גּוֹיִם יָבֹאוּ לָךְ is awkward, not bearing the normal sense it usually carries in Hebrew. This verse may also reflect the influence of Akkadian. The meaning of the Akkadian abāku A — “to send/lead” — fits the Hebrew כִּי יֵהָפֵךְ עָלַיִ ך הֲמוֹן יָם well, suggesting the meaning “the richness of the sea will be sent to you”: see CAD A, s.v. abāku A, 6 and the Neo-Babylonian texts adduced there.

29 See Vanderhooft, The Neo-Babylonian Empire and Babylon in the Latter Prophets, 45–46 and n. 164; S. Paul, “Deutero-Isaiah and Cuneiform Royal Inscriptions”, JAOS 88 (1968): 180–86, esp. 182–83; cf. also P. Grelot, “Un parallèle babylonien d'Isaïe LX et du Psaume LXXII”, VT 7 (1957): 319–21.

30 The fact that this idea is attested also in the prophecy regarding Tyre should not come as a surprise, the city in all likelihood being regarded as the classical example of wealth in the region. Isaiah 60 contains numerous ideas and phrases similar to the depiction of Tyrian wealth in Ezekiel and other parts of Isaiah, the “ships of Tarshish” bringing silver and gold apparently representing an attempt to depict Jerusalem on the model of Tyre. For the similarities between Isaiah 60–61 and Isaiah 23, see, for example, Stansell, “The Nations' Journey to Zion”, 252–53. For Tyre's trade as reflected in Ezekiel 27, see M. Liverani, “The Trade Network of Tyre According to Ezek. 27”, in Ah, Assyria! …: Studies in Assyrian History and Ancient Near Eastern Historiography (SH 33; ed. M. Cogan; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1991), 65–79; see also the summary in H. Katz, “The Ship from Uluburun and the Ship from Tyre: An International Trade Network in the Ancient Near East”, Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 124 (2008), 128–42. The author of Isaiah 60 thus appears to have adduced elements from the wealth of different cities, including that of Tyre.

31 Eissfeldt, The Old Testament, 323 (German original 1964, p. 434).


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